What can inhibit iron absorption?

There are a number of reasons why someone may complain of undue fatigue – one thing worth looking out for, particularly in women, is an iron deficiency. Monthly blood loss is a major risk factor for this, especially if coupled with a diet low in iron rich foods, such as red meat and liver. The problem is many women don’t go to their GP’s and they just put their tiredness down to busy lifestyles and large workloads.  However a simple blood test can reveal whether you have low iron levels.

To help increase your iron levels, and the amount of iron you get from your diet – not only do you need to make sure you are eating enough iron-rich foods, but you also need to try and avoid certain food and drink that can inhibit the absorption of this essential mineral. An example of this is – a steak is a food high in iron, however if you were to eat this whilst washing it down with a cup of tea, the iron that your body would absorb from eating the steak would be reduced by the tannin contained in the tea.

Iron deficiency

Below are a number of foods and drinks which can inhibit the absorption of iron – so it is best to avoid these when you are eating a meal rich in iron or when you are taking an iron supplement.


A 1983 University of Kansas study of coffee and iron absorption published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that coffee leads to a decreased absorption of iron. This study examined the effects of a cup of coffee on absorption of iron from a hamburger and found that coffee resulted in 39 percent decrease in iron absorption and concluded that higher concentrations of coffee created a further decrease. Coffee drank an hour before the hamburger resulted in no change in absorption.


The tannins in tea inhibit iron absorption. The same University of Kansas study that determined coffee’s inhibitory effect on iron found that tea decreased absorption of iron by 64 percent.


Compounds in egg yolk can also affect iron absorption. A study in the journal Food Science from August 2007 reported that rats fed a diet rich in egg yolks absorbed significantly less iron than rats whose diet consisted primarily of soy or casein protein.


As reported by the National Institute of Health, high concentrations of calcium prevents the body from fully absorbing iron. Avoid calcium-rich products such as milk, cottage cheese and yoghurt around the time you take your iron supplement.


Fibre can reduce iron absorption from food when consumed at the same time as a high-iron meal or iron supplementation. In general, avoid taking your iron supplement with a meal containing a lot of bran of fibrous foods to ensure a better absorption.

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According to the World Health Organisation, iron deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in the world. Women, particularly those in their child bearing years, are especially at risk. They need optimum energy just to get through the day and yet many are struggling to stay awake! Recent statistics show that 40% of women under the age of 34 have seriously low intakes of iron and are at risk of anaemia as a result. Teenage girls and pre-menopausal women are at particular risk as they have higher nutritional needs for iron than post-menopausal women due to losses during menstruation. However, people who follow a vegetarian diet may also be at risk as these diets are typically low in iron-rich foods.

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